How can he get away with this?
The Prime Minister has been accused of lying to Parliament, after he claimed London mayor Sadiq Khan has ‘effectively bankrupted’ London.
At PMQ’s today, the PM said any troubles at Transport for London (TfL) are ‘entirely the responsibility of the current bankrupt Labour mayor of London’. TfL is currently seeking a government bailout after its income collapsed during the pandemic.
Johnson’s claim was quickly called out as a ‘lie’. TfL’s income collapsed overnight when public transport stopped at the start of the pandemic. The Tories also abolished TfL’s operating grant of £700m a year from 2018 – making the publicly-run transport service almost entirely dependent on fares and advertising…both of which have collapsed during the coronavirus crisis.
The jibe from the PM follows reports today that ministers have threatened to take direct control of TfL – unless Labour’s Sadiq Khan accepts a ‘draconian’ package of measures, including a much larger congestion charge zone, higher bus and tube fares, and higher council tax, in order to get rescue funding. The congestion charge plans would expand the number of Londoners facing the tax to four million – a move that could be hugely unpopular without consultation.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson refused to deny reports that he was trying to impose the Congestion Charge on the north and south circulars, in response to a question Conservative MP.
He repeated that TfL’s financial troubles were “entirely the fault of the current mayor of London” with his “demagogic policies” – possibly referring to Sadiq Khan’s freeze on fares. Johnson boasted he had ‘never implemented’ such policies as mayor (a strange assertion given that he did implement a ‘real terms’ fare freeze for several years).
The government has been tightening the screws on London for some time ahead of next year’s elections. Scandal-hit Shaun Bailey is the Tory mayoral candidate.
Green Party mayoral candidate Siân Berry also challenged the PM, telling LFF: “There is more the current mayor could have done to make TfL’s revenue more resilient to this crisis. I have piushed him for nearly five years to develop a smart, fair, London-wide system of road charging that would have made a real difference. But there is no way any Mayor, even me, could have closed the gap caused by Covid-19.
“The Government must stop playing political games and give London transport long-term support and time to get fair new sources of revenue in place.”
Labour’s London Assembly Transport Spokesperson, Alison Moore AM, said: “The Prime Minister knows, better than anyone, that what he said is completely untrue. Boris Johnson left TfL with a £1.5bn deficit, which Sadiq Khan reduced by 71%.
“Boris Johnson also entered into an agreement with George Osborne to cut TfL’s annual £700m operating subsidy. Going into this pandemic, Sadiq Khan had increased cash reserves by 13% to £2.2bn – that’s the opposite of bankrupting TfL. Boris Johnson defunds London’s transport, Sadiq Khan defends it. It’s that simple.”
Challenging the PM, Ilford North Labour MP Wes Streeting said “The sole cause of the financial challenge facing TfL and all other operators is COVID-19. Fare income has fallen by c.90% as a result of lockdown.”
.Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.
This piece was updated after publication to include Sian Berry’s full quote on the need for London-wide road charging.
As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.
We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.